Media Type: Article - Recent
Year of Publication: 2020
Author(s): Malcolm Potts
For good reason, a lot of scientific attention is focused on slowing the spread of the corona virus. However, it’s not too early to take a step back and ask: where did this virus come from, and how we can stop new pandemics arising?
Animals share a lot of diseases. People, cows, and badgers can all get tuberculosis. The 14th century Black Death killed half the population of Europe, and it was spread by rat fleas. Small pox was eliminated because a vaccine could be develop based on a similar virus in cows
HIV/AIDS, the SARS epidemic, and now the corona virus, have all jumped from other mammalian species. The AIDS virus may have come from chimpanzees, killed for the bush meat trade. Once, when I was in Gabon, my hosts said would I like to be taken to the French or to the African restaurant. I said the African, although I didn’t expect to be served fricassee of pangolin and roast civet cat. Pangolins are ant eaters. Instead of fur they have scales. I tried to be polite. and I can attest that, well cooked, pangolin scales are edible, if tasteless.
The corona virus may have come from a pangolin. In recent decades a million pangolins have been sent from Africa to Chinese shops selling traditional Chinese medicines. Sometimes only the scales are sold, but on other occasions live animals are exported. Curiosity has taken me into shops selling traditional medicine’s in China and Hong Kong. Most had a rhino horn which, ground up, is considered to act as an aphrodisiac.. Others had cages with a mixture of live exotic wild animals, such as pangolins and civet cats. It was exactly this environment in Wuhan that was the source of today’s corona virus pandemic.
The 2003 SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic also began in shops selling traditional Chinese medicines, this time in Guangdong province of southern China. The Chinese government closed the traditional medicine shops, but then allowed them to reopen as the number of SARS cases fell.
We need a international effort to abolish all trade in exotic mammals and to push back in every way possible against the bush meat market. The Chinese traditional medicine shops and bush meat trade expose all of us to lethal animal viruses, as well as threatening the extinction of some species.
Now is an opportune time for the US, Italy, Iran, and other countries to lobby for an international agreement to end the exceedingly dangerous trade in wild animals of any species.
Reprinted with permission from the author.